Soul-Shopping

The second matter of utmost importance for my trip to Seoul: shopping. Seoul has many famous markets and shopping districts selling all manner of all kinds of things at all hours. But I really just wanted to go to H&M. My work clothes situation was getting a little desperate, and being an American-proportioned female in Korea makes it very difficult to shop for clothes (as Korean women tend to be tiny tiny). To make things more difficult, most shops don’t have fitting rooms, and shopkeepers will just visually size you up and let you know if something will fit. My washing machine also tends to tear clothes apart. So I was pretty eager to do some shopping.

Myeong-dong is a gigantic shopping district, especially popular among ex-pats for its two H&Ms and Forever 21. It has tons of international chains as well as discount stalls and boutiques. Stacked on top of these multi-level shops are floors of coffee shops and restaurants, and all of this is packed into a few dense blocks. Even on a Thursday early afternoon, Myeong-dong wins for the craziest crowds I encountered in all of my time in Seoul, and the craziest, most crowded H&M and Forever 21 I’ve ever been in (which includes NYC…quite a feat).

Please note the car in the midst of the crowds in that photo. ‘Pedestrian’ streets don’t really exist over here.

To add to all this shopping madness, the streets were still icy from the other day’s blizzard, and so people and cars were sliding all over the place. Many methods were employed to get rid of the ice, including the more familiar (a snow shovel), to the more tedious (chipping away with a hammer) to the …extreme:

Taking Care of the ice in Myeongdong

Next to Myeong-dong is Namdaemun, a perhaps equally gigantic shopping district featuring a more traditional-style market. I’m pretty sure you could find most anything you could ever need at a traditional Korean market.


Namdaemun had all the crazy, crowdedness of Myeongdong, although a bit more single-level.

Three points of interest:
1. I found these guys in both Myeong-dong and Namdaemun:
Blues Brothers in Namdaemun Market

More Blues Brothers in Namdaemun Market
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Blues Brothers anywhere, and haven’t noticed them anywhere else in Korea. Also, the red looks kind of tacky.

2. It is impossible to find cheap, cute shoes that fit my ‘gigantic’ American-sized feet in Myeong-dong, no matter how long you spend looking.

and

3. Face/body stores use men to advertise make-up to women. Why this is a selling point, or attractive, I don’t understand.

Even after a couple of days devoted solely (ha) to shopping, I still have some shopping to-do’s in Seoul: Yangsan Electronics Market, Dongdaemun’s 24-hour shopping, and Hongdae’s weekend street fair will all have to happen sometime this summer.

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Weekends in Busan

Busan is Korea’s second city. It’s nowhere as big as Seoul, but compared to Ulsan, it’s sort of like the New York City to Ulsan’s Hackensack, NJ. It is generally seen as that much more exciting, metropolitan, cultural, better, and everything.

Lucky for me, Busan borders Ulsan, and is just a bus/train/KTX ride away. Which means I’ve been there quite a few times these past few months. In Busan I’ve found some exciting international culture, clubbing opportunities, and even some reminders of home. Here’s a summary:

Busan Fireworks Festival (Oct. 23)

Dad visits!

My dad’s business trip to Korea coincided with the Busan Fireworks Festival. He booked a hostel in Seomyeon for the weekend to visit.

Seomyeon is one of Busan’s busiest nightlife districts. It’s packed with bars, clubs, restaurants and young people.

Seomyeon at night

Dad wanted to check out the clubs, but I wasn’t really up for it and certainly wasn’t dressed for it, so we had a mini Seomyeon bar crawl instead, where I introduced my dad to the wonders of Korean beer and anju (the side dishes served with drinking) and we explored two of the area’s many Chicago bars.

Gwangali Beach
Gwangali Beach: the scene for the fireworks

Busan’s fireworks festival is a huge event that draws millions and millions of spectators. With nothing else planned for the day, we decided to head down early and beat the crowds. The show didn’t start until 8, but there were quite a few people there by the early afternoon.

Gwangali Beach - camped out for the fireworks
One way to save a spot.

Gwangali Beach - camped out for the fireworks
Camped out for the day to save their spot.

Around the beach, we found some giant crabs:
Giant crabs!

And some smelly beondegi for sale on the street:
yuck
(you seriously have no idea how bad this smells…)

The festival also marked the first get together with some of the friends I had made at the EPIK orientation since we all headed to our separate cities.
Waiting for the fireworks to start

The fireworks felt a bit different from a fireworks festival back home.
– Food vendors wandered through the crowds selling boxed sets of fried chicken and radish kimchi.
– Other people wandered through the crowds to distribute trash bags.
– Open alcohol consumption was no problem.
– Once the beach area filled up, a line of police officers kept more people from crowding on. Aisle spaces allowed those already on the beach to leave and return, with a hand-stamping system to make sure only those already on the beach were let back on.

Overall it was rather impressively well-organized.

Crowds on the beach:
Firework festival crowds

5th Annual Busan Fireworks Festival

The show begins:
The fireworks finally start!

Busan Fireworks Festival

Busan Fireworks Festival

Busan Fireworks Festival

In the end, we had been saving a spot on the beach for ~6 hours. But it was well worth it! The show was very impressive.

Afterwards there was some drinking, and my dad managed to match my guy friends in shots of soju 🙂 Eventually, of course, the evening ended in a noraebang.

After-festival noraebang-ing
Mark, always a passionate noraebang-er

After-festival noraebang-ing

International Food Expo and Club Foxy (24 Hours in Busan – Nov 13)

My second trip to Busan was primarily to visit an International Food Expo in hopes of finding a burrito or some pierogies. Unfortunately the festival had neither, but the trip turned out to be worthwhile anyways…

International Food Expo
That looks like garlic…

International Food Expo
Someone put frosted flakes on my sushi.

Seaweed in bulk
Want to buy some seaweed?

sashimi
A year ago, I would have this this looked gross. But not anymore. Sashimi? Yummmmmmm.

The festival was in Busan’s Bexco center, a giant exhibition hall. Next door was a design expo.

Fancy Water Fountain
A fancy water fountain.

Awesome Water Fountain
Another fancy water fountain. (Hand modeling by Shannon)

Paul sits at a Fancy Bench
A fancy bench. (Bench modeling by Paul)

Bike sky-way!
Every city needs one of these!!

adorable cloud monster bike parking sign
Adorable.

There was also a fish expo, but you had to pay to get in, so we didn’t bother.

From Bexco, we went to a ‘Play room’ to recharge. The play room was a small private room you could rent that came equipped with a TV, internet, video game system, pre-loaded movies, and nice sound system.

Eventually I did fulfill my original goal of going to Busan and got a burrito at the Fuzzy Navel, a western place in Haeundae Beach (a westerny-touristy part of Busan). But it was quite awful.

The night took us back to Seomyeon, where I finally made it to one of clubs (Foxy). It was more packed than any club I’ve ever been to, but played lots of K-pop and American hip hop (including “Wild Wild West” at one point) and so was very enjoyable.

We passed the remainder of the night in a noraebang, and once the subways started back up headed to the bus terminal to catch an early bus back to Ulsan.

Christmas Shopping (Dec 11-12)

Busan having far more shopping opportunities than Ulsan, my friend Paul and I decided to head over there to do our main Christmas shopping. Christmas isn’t really a big holiday in Korea, but it’s kind of like Valentine’s Day, so department stores still get really into the decorating to encourage the gift-giving.

Our day of Christmas shopping started with a visit to a market that was supposed to specialize in Korean antiques and old, interesting things. This was my best find:

At a flea market in Busan

There was also an imitation Oscar, which in hindsight I really wish I had grabbed.

We also checked out Gukje market, one of Busan’s biggest. The first thing I saw in the market was a stand selling pig’s heads!!! I was totally disgusted, as I had never really come across the severed head of any animal (I don’t think), let alone something as big as a pig, let alone several severed pig heads. The market was packed with vendors selling all kinds of clothing as well as western-imports like Quaker Oats and Jack Daniel’s. Luckily there were some souvenir shops as well, perfect for finding Christmas gifts.

The market neighbored Busan’s main shopping district, Nampdong. “All I Want For Christmas” blared out of speakers lining the street. Crowds of people bustled in and out shops and department stores. It felt a lot like Christmas shopping at home.

Nampodong all decked out for Christmas:

Christmas in Nampo-dong

That evening there was a Battle of the Bands in the Kyungsung University area (Busan’s other going big going-out neighborhood, generally full of university students and foreigners). Paul and I went with our friend Mark, where we ran into more people Mark knew from Busan and other people Paul and I knew from Ulsan (it’s a small world for English teachers over here). The bands we saw were a Korean Irish punk band that played covers of The Clash and Flogging Molly (as well as a bunch of Irish traditionals in Korean), and a Korean Rancid-style/imitation punk-rock band that covered several …And Out Come the Wolves tracks. Needless to say, I really let my inner 15-year-old out and danced the night away with a bunch of other foreigners, jumping up and down so much my calves hurt for days after.

Caribou Coffee in Korea!
I managed to track down my most favorite coffee shop – Caribou Coffee – in Haeundae Beach, and after 2+ months of drinking bland lattes and watery Americanos, it tasted amazing. The perfect end to a weekend full of reminders of home!